Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papa Frank – A Godless Assessment

Pope Francis is probably one of the best choices for number 266 the Convocation of cardinals could have made.  Even if Catholicism needs radical surgery, only gradualism will not produce a counter reformation. 
So the candidate had to be clean of abuse scandals and anti Curia (well not promoting the values of largesse and waste that is the hallmark of the Vatican). The successful candidate ought not to be North American where the abuse scandals rage undiminished. He ought not to be European because the European Church is sclerotic and undeserving of continued claims to the leadership.  Frank is Italian by heritage and Latin American by birth which is a divine compromise between the Old World and the New. His ethnicity equips him to be the Bishop of Rome and his nationality represents an overdue but fundamental shift away from Europe.
His ostentatious modesty and socially progressive views on poverty give him moral power.  Being publicly seen to repudiate the luxury of office of Archbishop will elevate his reputation for the rest of his life. That moral power is enhanced by some evidence of his clandestine opposition to the cruel dictatorship of the Dirty War in Argentina from 1976 to 1983. However, those survivors of this baleful time would argue that his failure to publicly oppose the Junta was deplorable. There is insufficient evidence yet on this issue.  It is clear he was not a supine collaborator and it is equally clear he was not publicly an uncompromising opponent.  My uninformed guess is that he did quite well in an awful situation but time will be the ultimate arbiter of his behaviour during this complex time.
His social conservatism is unsurprising.  He is anti gay reform and contraceptive availability. Unlike during the Dirty War, his war on sexual and gender freedom is palpable. This is appalling but expected.  We godless mutter to ourselves, “Thank God for the unchanging views of Catholicism to moral progress.” There is no ambiguity for doubters about why the Church is morally irrelevant and undeserving of ethical air time.
Is this a John XXIII moment?  Pope John, recognised by history as a great reformer and a beautiful man, is a hope the world cherishes for every papal elevation. The scope is there for honesty on abuse, reform of the curia and the embracing of moral progress.  I don’t feel in my waters that this is a John XXIII moment.  Do you?  What is your view?


  1. The name changes but the thinking remains the same. There will be a split in the CC eventually if its higher ups don't bend to social reform as many Catholics don't listen to them on things like gay rights, contraception and when to have sex.

    1. Yes Stranger I think you may be correct. The issue of change might be a qualitative difference to the problems that the Church has had to face in the past. But it is a resilient beast. Like the undead or the zombies, the Church defies death despite many calling its imminent demise in the recent past. Time will tell.

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  3. I've been reading comments, blogs, articles , from both sides of the theist/atheist fence for most of the day. My head is swimming with information and misinformation to the point where confusion reigns.

    I've read repeatedly of the new Pope having lived a life that takes seriously the vow of poverty. I see this as a good thing, but struggle to understand how this can be maintained by a pontiff living in the splendour of the vatican.

    On the other side of the ledger I read the following on a blog titled Butterflies and Wheels by Ophelia Benson - based, I believe, on a guardian article dated 4th January, 2011
    (‎"He recounts how the Argentine navy with the connivance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires [and now Pope], hid from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission the dictatorship's political prisoners. Bergoglio was hiding them in nothing less than his holiday home in an island called El Silencio in the River Plate. The most shaming thing for the church is that in such circumstances Bergoglio's name was allowed to go forward in the ballot to chose the successor of John Paul II. What scandal would not have ensued if the first pope ever to be elected from the continent of America had been revealed as an accessory to murder and false imprisonment."
    The sins of the Argentinian church
    Hugh O'Shaughnessy: The Catholic church was complicit in dreadful crimes in Argentina. Now it has a chance to repent)

    O'Shaughnessy, a Catholic, also wrote a guardian article in May 2011 where he compared the Catholic bishops of Argentina to Lady Macbeth "Their robes remain as stained with blood as the Shakespearian character's ever were."

    Finally I spoke to my staunchly Catholic brother. He initial response are -

    1) The church needs to be to deal honestly and openly with the victims of abuse. No more secrecy or covering up.
    2) The church needs progressive new leadership that is open to the ordination of women, and the marriage of priests.
    3) If the church wants more practicing Catholics, it needs a leader who can make the church relevant in the 21st century, not an expert theologian.
    4) The new Pope is, in my brother's opinion, too old

    He'll be interested to hear what the Pope has to say as he begins his tenure, and we'll talk more on this issue in a month or so.

    So there's my days work. We'll have to wait and see won't we. I'm off to eat reheated pizza accompanied by icy cold beer for my dinner.

    1. Dear Tricia,
      That is quite a days work!
      I agree with your brother. Papa Frank needs to embrace change. The changes that your brother advocates would be seen as unexceptional by most Australians and yet I imagine that Francis would look on these suggestions with horror. Hence the Church will still struggle with plausibility in the West.
      As to the Drity War, I only repeated what his biographer has written. I imagine that the scrutiny will intensify now that his has the big gig. I wonder what history will throw up???
      Thanks for your labours T,
      The Dickster

    2. MalcolmS8:07 PM

      Tricia, I was interested in your comment that the Pope "takes seriously the vow of poverty" and that you saw this "as a good thing."

      What do you see as so good about poverty? Have you ever visited the world's poverty stricken areas such as Africa and Asia?

    3. Hello Malcolm,
      You raise a valid point. I must admit I wondered about the 'poverty' comment after I'd posted. With hindsight I wasn't meaning real poverty, more an absence of the excess that, in my opinion and limited personal experience, is so much a part of the church hierarchy.

      Some years ago my parents were part of the 'inner circle' of a monsignor from the Dandenong parish. Once only I gave into nagging to attend a cocktail party at the presbytery, (my mother died hoping I'd return to the church). Far from encouraging me to think well of the church, I was appalled by the opulence and excess.

      A cousin of my mother was once Vicar General in Victoria. This is something I can't dwell on for personal reasons.

      On the other hand I've a dear friend who's a nun. When my husband wanted to take her to dinner in gratitude for all the non judgemental help she'd given us (me in particular), this woman stressed she would only be comfortable dining in a simple place. We'd suggested the dining room at the Hotel Windsor, my friend countered with The Spaghetti Tree.

      In hindsight the word 'poverty' would be better substituted with 'living a simple life'.

    4. MalcolmS9:44 PM

      Same question: Why is dining at The Spaghetti Tree more virtuous than dining at the Windsor?

    5. Hello again Malcolm,
      I did not write, nor do I think, dining at The Spaghetti Tree is more 'virtuous' than dining at the Windsor. I respect my friend because she takes seriously the vows she took when she became a nun.

      As a youngster at a Catholic school I was taught those who entered religious life took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.(The word celibacy was not used in my Catholic primary school)

      I believe if the Catholic church is going to rabbit on about its members obeying antiquated rules, refusing to allow abortion, even when the mother's life is in danger, forbidding catholics the use of condoms, even in countries where thousands are dying of aids etc., - these days the likes of Pell, even try to tell their parishioners what can and can't be said or displayed at a funeral.

      If they are going to pontificate on these and other issues, the very least they can do is respect the vows they willingly took when they entered religious life. This brings me back to poverty, which these days is more living a life of austerity as opposed to abject poverty.

      I think of many things when I see men parading around the vatican in their flash, often handmaid, frocks. A frequent thought is, austerity is only noticeable by its absence.

      Hope this clarifies things for you.

    6. Anonymous4:46 AM

      Why is dining at The Spaghetti Tree more virtuous?
      Because there is no God but the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the spaghetti tree was created in His image and likeness.

      Blessed be his noodly appendages.

  4. I had to delete and edit my initial comment because it contained an error. I initially thought the now Pope Francis, was one of the bishops referred to in the 'Macbeth' comment, but he was not made Bishop until 1992, and I now believe this article refers to incidents that occurred in the 70s.

    If I've made any other errors please point them out.

  5. A Jesuit. The men who some argue are the origins of modern corporate cultures.

    I expect nothing to change below, above, or in the middle. Of course, what I expect and what happens are usually greatly at odds with each other. Which means I expect much will happen. Which means...

    1. Nothing might happen...Cay I finish your sentence for you GLE

  6. ogham8:32 PM

    The pope club has been stacked with right wingers so I'm not expecting much more than window dressing. The most positive is the possible change in contraceptive attitudes, disease being the reason, not a change in the their disgust of *happy hippy humping*. Even so, this incremental move could be a god-send(sorry) for the innocents of Africa and Asia and a boost to global population control. A back door policy maybe, but we humans will take what we can get from any of the corrupt global corporations. Pity that social activist for the poor, and good ol' catholic boy, Chavez died too soon to see a South American Pope, it would be interesting to see how he'd have played it to the crowd, or if he would have highlighted the fawning acts "Pope Frankie" committed on behalf of fascist elements.
    We did dodge a bullet though, we could be talking about Pope Pell. (shudder)

    1. Hiya Og,
      I too am more than pleased we dodged the 'Pell bullet'. I think I would have spent the rest of my life gagging on this too large a lump of hypocrisy.

    2. I dunno folks. Pell thinks we are descended from Neanderthals. Imagine having a modern Neanderthal in Rome! Oh wait... ummm... don't want to insult Neanderthals (apparently they've been given an unfair rap in the past)... want to make a joke about Pell being an intellectual knuckle-dragger... failing... where's Zed when we need him?

  7. Oh Great and Powerful Og, the Pell bullet dodged is an important to have avoided.
    The Dirty War issue has a way to play out though. I have read good things - well 6 out of 10 things about Pope Frank during their Troubles but other evidence may emerge over time.

  8. Anonymous3:12 PM

    It seems to be one of the better choices they have made. I've read articles about his choice of name, and the general consensus that it bodes well. There seems to be an expectation that he's there to "fix the Church", but I don't think he can do that. The big problem here is that the Pope chooses the Cardinals, and the Popes have chosen Cardinals that have the most similar theological positions to themselves. Thus there is very little difference in the upper echelons of the church, very little room for debate or new ideas. The most we can hope for from this pope is that he chooses as Cardinals some people with more "progressive" positions, to start the counter-counter-reformation. And possibly set in place some stringent don't-protect-noxious-criminals practices.

    -- JEQP

    1. Dear JEQP, the political inbreeding of every organisation must, as you observe, make change glacial. I feel that your modest hopes for reform are accurate.
      Thanks. Dick

  9. Hmm... will the new broom effectively clean house?

    Or will it just more effectively sweep stuff under the carpet?

    It is "wait and see" from me.

    1. MalcolmS8:47 PM

      People have been "wait[ing] and see[ing]" for millennia.

      If Catholicism/Christianity wants to hose out its fetid stables it can start with virgin birth, life after death and miracles.

      Then remember to close the Vatican door as the last priest leaves town.

      These are not the people upon whom to rely for a worldview.

  10. By the way - Hi, Dick and congrats on getting the new site up.

  11. Cosy little spot you have here Richard; interesting colour scheme.

    Very bright!
    You aren't being sponsored by Rayban by any chance?

  12. Hi Zed! Yes the colours are appalling. It is a cry for help...

  13. Anonymous8:45 PM

    Hey Dick,

    With Easter coming up, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the resurrection of Jesus. That is, after all, what Easter is all about!